For the first time since 2005, the Wisconsin Badgers were led in 2010 by a pair of seniors in the backcourt in Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon.
Yet, while experienced guards are a common element of many successful teams in college basketball, Bo Ryan’s squad was picked to be among the lower tier of the Big Ten. Unfazed by low expectations, the Badgers appeared poised from the start to surprise people.
When asked about it at the team’s media day back in October, Ryan recalled the senior duo of 2005, both of whom hailed from Wisconsin.
“You can never look in a crystal ball and say this is how a couple senior guards will play,” Ryan said. “[But,] you know, I thought Sharif Chambliss and Clayton Hanson did a pretty good job together, with help obviously from the bench with [Kammron Taylor].”
That same formula, two senior guards with a sophomore point guard coming off the bench, was exactly what Wisconsin hoped would lead it back to the Elite Eight for the first time since that 2005 season.
Instead of Chambliss and Hanson, the Badgers had Hughes and Bohannon. Off the bench there was Jordan Taylor, who, in addition to sharing a last name with his predecessor, also hailed from the same home state of Minnesota.
When the season began, the 2010 version of the Wisconsin Badgers were far better than expected. After beginning 4-1, though, the biggest wins were yet to come for UW.
Just a week after beating one ACC squad, Wisconsin hosted then-No. 6 Duke at the Kohl Center as a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
A highly anticipated matchup, the Badgers and Blue Devils did not disappoint, and when the final buzzer sounded, Wisconsin came out on top. That win — which clinched the Challenge for the Big Ten, as it turned out — was just the beginning for UW, which built an impressive r?sum? throughout the season.
Including the victories over Maryland and Duke, the Badgers won nine of 10 games from the end of November to early January. Wisconsin opened the Big Ten slate 2-0, taking advantage of an Evan Turner-less Ohio State team on New Year’s Eve.
After falling 54-47 at Michigan State, another matchup with a top 10 team was up next.
Behind a career-high 23 points from Taylor, the Badgers knocked off fourth-ranked Purdue, handing the Boilermakers their first loss after opening the season on 14-game win streak.
In that game, Wisconsin’s guard trio finally showed just how potent it could be, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Purdue head coach Matt Painter.
“You could think about how good the other guys were,” Painter said. “I think that’s the storyline here is that those guards were pretty good today.”
After knocking off Purdue, the Badgers were ranked No. 16 and had entered themselves into the conversation for the Big Ten regular season title. Unfortunately for UW, junior forward Jon Leuer fractured a bone in his wrist during that Jan. 9 upset victory.
Leuer missed the next nine games, a stretch in which Wisconsin went 6-3. And while the Badgers played well enough to stay in contention without Leuer, the loss of their 6-foot-10 forward prevented them from putting together any extended winning streak.
When the native of Orono, Minn., returned at Minnesota on Feb. 18 — 40 days to the date of Leuer’s injury — Wisconsin hoped his presence could spark a key road victory. It did not, however, and the Badgers’ loss at The Barn proved to be the one that kept them one loss behind the three-way tie first place in the Big Ten.
Following that loss, however, UW finally seemed to have gotten back to top form. In their last four regular season games, the Badgers won by an average of 20.25 points while allowing just 51.25 points per game defensively.
Unfortunately, though, that’s when everything went wrong.
Wisconsin struggled mightily on offense against Illinois in the teams’ Big Ten tournament quarterfinal matchup, shooting just 18.2 percent from the floor in the first half. Despite a hard-fought comeback, UW came up short in the end and was sent home from Indianapolis before the weekend for the second straight year.
With 33 seconds left, it looked like the Badgers could finish their comeback and move on to face Ohio State in the semifinals. But when Hughes fouled out, everything changed; yet, he was not one to wonder after the game what could have happened had he not fouled out.
“You can’t look at it that way,” he said. “In the first half, if I made a couple there or tried to get some more stops on defense, we wouldn’t have even been in that situation. It’s throughout the whole game, not just that instance right there when I fouled out.”
As the NCAA Tournament began, fourth-seeded Wisconsin looked poised to bounce back from that tough loss and make a deep run in a bracket that set up well for the Badgers. But that was not the case at all.
Wisconsin barely escaped with a win over No. 13 seed Wofford in the first round, needing a jumper from the corner by Leuer in the final seconds to win. Two days later, things would only get worse.
Cornell, a No. 12 seed that upset off fifth-seeded Temple two days earlier, lit up the Badgers for 87 points, the most allowed in regulation by Wisconsin since 2006. While the Big Red may have been the best team in Jacksonville regardless of seed, the dominating fashion in which they beat UW certainly made a statement.
For Wisconsin, it made a different kind of statement, while also leaving people wondering just what had gone wrong over the final three games.
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. We just ?– I don’t know,” Leuer said when asked about it afterward. “We haven’t been executing like we were earlier. It’s just one of those things that we just hit a rough patch.”